Oklahoma’s Poverty Landscape

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Interactive by Thomas Thoren. Text by David Fritze.


Source: U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey estimate of poverty rates by census tract for 2011-2015.

Poverty is a key underlying factor for many of Oklahoma’s alarming social ills, from drug addiction to incarceration.

In 2015, the latest year for which Census Bureau statistics are available, Oklahoma’s poverty rate was 18th highest in the nation, at 16.1 percent. That was a slight improvement over 2014’s rate of 16.6 percent, although Oklahoma’s gain was less than that of the nation as a whole. The state’s poverty rate remained higher than the national rate of 14.7 percent.

Mapping poverty can be deceiving. County-level maps, while identifying broad sectors of economic deprivation, tend to conceal smaller areas with extreme poverty. The Census Bureau map below indicates that eastern and southeastern Oklahoma are beset by poverty. Other county-level maps tracking social ills also frequently cast this area, historically known as “Little Dixie,” in the darkest shades.

A more detailed map brings into view the smaller areas of crisis. The interactive map at top paints poverty in census tracts, or neighborhoods, with the darkest patches (seen best by zooming in) having poverty rates that exceed 50 percent, even 60 percent, especially in urban Oklahoma City and Tulsa.